Recording information: Echo Studio, Los Angeles, CA; Harmony Recording Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Hot Closet Studios, Los Angeles, CA; The Rib Cage, Los Angeles, CA.
Reflecting her years as a music industry veteran, Sia Furler took a self-aware, practical approach to her return to the spotlight. She recorded her comeback album, 1000 Forms of Fear, to get out of her publishing contract; its acclaim led to This Is Acting, a collection of songs originally written for -- and rejected by -- clients such as Adele, Rihanna, and Beyonc. But as the album title hints, there's more going on here than recycling. In a way, Furler is acting when she writes songs to fit the images these artists portray, and her own interpretations of them add another layer of theatrical distance. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- she initially shopped "Chandelier" to Rihanna and Beyonc before keeping it for herself and imbuing it with the unique frailty that made it a smash hit. Sia's skill at crafting songs full of drama and vulnerability that feel real, no matter how loud they get, is in full force on This Is Acting, particularly its first two tracks. Originally intended for Adele -- another master of huge-yet-genuine-sounding songs -- "Bird Set Free" and "Alive" are filled with wounded empowerment and vocal acrobatics that sound just as powerful (if less bombastic) coming from Sia. Though she returns to the intimate songwriting of her pre-pop career on "One Million Bullets" -- the lone song Furler wrote for herself -- many of This Is Acting's most interesting and successful moments find Sia taking on more unexpected roles. A pair of songs intended for Rihanna let her show off a more lighthearted side: the spare, reggae-tinged pulse of "Cheap Thrills" echoes Major Lazer's "Lean On" (yet another Rihanna reject), but a backing chorus of what sounds like alien children reinforces that this is a Sia song, while "Reaper" lets her explore a more easygoing version of her seize-the-day anthems. Given that Furler didn't originally plan to make these songs her own originally, it's impressive that This Is Acting works as well as it does -- its meta-pop is another reminder of how cleverly Sia brings her experiments into the mainstream. ~ Heather Phares
Rolling Stone - "The high point is 'One Million Bullets,' the only song she wrote with herself in mind. Against a dusky minor-key piano, Sia offers herself as her lover's protector, muse and martyr - her voice cracking perfectly in the chorus as she asks if they'd take a shot for her too..."
Spin - "By day, she is a guiding force for more extroverted major-label superstars; by night she's defying their existence by singing the same songs in a way the commercial landscape never realized it was ready for."
NME (Magazine) - "`Move Your Body' is pure Europop and `Sweet Design' is a clattering R&B track."
Pitchfork (Website) - "She remains a vocal powerhouse....That aching, slip-sliding, cracked voice reinvogorates the military-drums-and-anthemic-chorus formula on lead single 'Alive'..."
Clash (Magazine) - "Each of its twelve tracks builds to a raucous chorus where Sia gets the chance to fully exercise her pipes..."